French connection

Shawnee Dispatch – April 29, 2015
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – May 4, 2015

Photo by Nico Roesler. Click on photo to view full-size image.

Photo by Nico Roesler. Click on photo to view full-size image.

Name: Antoine Viger

Born: Bordeaux, France

Family: Parents are Christian and Francoise, and one brother.

Occupation: Student at University of Bordeaux in the university’s two-year Institute of Technology studying safety and environment.

Dream job as a child: Viger had the same dream that many American children had when they first saw the movie series Star Wars. “I wanted to be a jedi,” he said.

Digging Deeper: Viger is living in Shawnee for the next month as part of a study abroad program that has paired him with the Shawnee Fire Department. He is living with Shawnee firefighter Larry Beets and his family while studying post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health in first responders. The project, he says, is part of a larger study on how to prevent suicide among firefighters, police and all first responders. Given the life or death scenarios first responders are placed in, the resulting effects can sometimes be devastating.

“If I work on the suicide prevention, I must also work on PTSD,” he said.

Viger is not a firefighter back home in France so he is not directly fighting fires and responding to emergencies here in Shawnee. He does get to go on calls with the firefighters, but stays in his observant roll.

“He gets to see first hand what they go through,” said Fire Marshal Corey Sands.

To fully immerse himself in the life of a firefighter, Viger has chosen to sleep many nights in the Shawnee Fire Station No. 71, the busiest in Johnson County. He admits that he loses sleep in the station, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I want to live a firefighter’s life,” Viger said. “If I become tired, that’s OK, it is the life.”

Viger said he has responded to medical emergencies with the Shawnee Fire Department and a large fire two weeks ago at an Olathe restaurant. Not only have the experiences given him a first-person experience of life and death, but he has become a team member with the local firefighters.

“It helps to give him a sense of the team work here,” said Viger’s host Beets. “He’s a member of the team, he’s a member of the family.”

Viger is one of four total student in the area from France studying similar projects. There are other students being hosted by the Leawood Fire Department, Overland Park Fire Department and the Olathe Fire Department.

Outside of the fire station, Viger is also getting a taste of life in Shawnee. He has visited the west coast of the United States before but said there is something very different about the atmosphere in Shawnee compared to the places he’s been and his home town in France.

“People are all very sweet, always saying hello,” Viger said.

He described searching for something in a local grocery store when a stranger offered to help him find something.

“In France if someone did that, you would say, ‘What are you doing?'” he laughed.

Viger has tried local fare such as barbecue and bacon cheddar cheeseburgers and loves it all. In return, he has cooked crepes for the firefighters at the local station. Having been here since April 6, he returns to France June 11.

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